June 16, 2021
by Diana Rosen
True white tea (bai cha) was developed by the Chinese in Fuding, a heralded tea center in Fujian Province, and later, in Yunnan Province, and both areas produce white teas to this day. To receive the authentic classification as a white tea in China, the teas must be grown and processed in Fujian or Yunnan, because of terroir, temperature, altitude (5,000-6500 ft.) and other agricultural elements. Yunnan whites have been grown and processed primarily in Yang Ta, since 1840, however, because of their large leaves, their scent is less floral than Fuding whites. They are frequently called big (da) leaf (ye) white tea (bai cha.) While it is true that any tea could be processed as white, and there are delicious examples from India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka, those teas lack the unique terroir of Fuding, many tea connoisseurs, and growers, believe only white teas made from Fujian plants can be called white teas.
BAI HAO YIN ZHEN (Silver Needle)
Bai Hao Yin Zhen was first processed in 1796, (the Qing Dynasty) but it wasn’t until almost a century later, in 1891, that it was first exported. Nearly another century later, in 1982, Bai Hao Yin Zhen was designated a National Famous Tea by the Ministry of Commerce in China, 2nd among the country’s 30 famous teas.
Bai Hao Yin Zhen now elicits high prices that reflect the low production, short harvest time (about 10 days) between the vernal equinox and before the Qingming Festival, the laborious processing, and the high demand for this 100%-bud style. Its production is barely 10% of the country’s white tea production.
PROCESSING AND BREWING
Bai Hao Yin Zehn, aka Silver Needle, is made only from 100% tea leaf buds and the name translates as Bai (White); Hao (fluff or hair); Yin (silver), Zhen (needle.) Our spring 2021 selection comes from the misty, rainforest-like area of Fuding in Ningde Prefecture, Fujian and its young, fuzzy, plump buds offer a dry aroma that is quite floral, and the leaves are a lovely silvery green. Once brewed the light honey-colored liquor offers flavor notes of honeydew, fresh sweet cucumber and a slight hint of mineral.
Silver Needle leaf buds are withered, often sun-dried, or dried in a well-ventilated indoor shed. Then, they’re slowly dried, often over a simmering fire. Using only the unopened leaf buds, with their soft fuzz, often referred to as down or hairy covering, they contribute to a light, sweet greenish taste that is as delicate as the pale sage color of the leaf buds. Sometimes referred to as “senior tea,” Silver Needle is a popular tea for older people or those who want to drink a low-caffeine tea at night time.
Although white teas can be served any style from gongfu to a Brown Betty, brewing it in glass vessels is a lovely way to enjoy the beauty of the leaves’ color and shape, adding to the sensual pleasure of this delicate tea.
The caffeine level is low. To steep, brew for 2-3 minutes with water heated to 170° F. The resulting cup is gentle yet complex, offering a silky texture, with notes of honeydew, fresh sweet cucumber, and a slight hint of mineral.
Bai Hao Yin Zhen is full of anti-oxidant properties which can fight disease, improve circulation, ameliorate fatigue, inflammation, and perhaps lower blood pressure. It contains more than 25 kinds of amino acids, vitamins B1 and 2, E, K, and C, and polyphenols, more than any other tea type.
BAI MU DAN (White Peony)
Bai Mu Dan is a fairly new tea among the legendary tea category of China, first created in 1922, in Jianyang District then in Zhenghe County. Today, five areas within the northern area of Fujian Province produce this exceptional tea.
Its name, White Peony, comes directly from what it looks like in bloom, a peony flower (mu dan) named for the tree peony (Paeonia suffruticosa) and most likely, a derivative of Kenge Bai Hao or var. Fudin Bai Hao, only found in Fujian.
Bai Mu Dan is made from young tea leaves and one silvery unopened leaf bud, which has the remarkable variety of fragrances. As many as 20, have been detected from fruit to floral, baking, grass or herbal. Bai Mu Dan can be classified into four grades based on fragrance, taste, and shape.
PROCESSING AND BREWING
Bai Mu Dan is sun-withered one to three days, piled together for several hours to achieve slight oxidation to enable the enzymes of the tea leaves to be released to form its typical fragrance and taste elements. Finally, the leaves are baked to dry for packing which must be done with care to avoid breaking the fragile leaves.
The taste is slightly stronger and deeper than Silver Needle with an edge of honey that makes it delicious s a solo tea and the perfect accompaniment for meals.
While brewing preferences vary, to begin, use 5g of white tea bud leaves to 4 to 6 oz. of water heated to 180-185°F. and steep quickly, tasting at 1 minute intervals, to determine what appeals to you. Can easily be re-steeped.
Bai Mu Dan is full of anti-oxidant properties which can fight disease, improve circulation, ameliorate fatigue, inflammation, and perhaps lower blood pressure.
THE LEGEND OF BAI MU DAN (White Peony)
Despite its fairly recent designation as an exceptional Chinese white tea, Bai Mu Dan has an ancient legend attached to it. This tale may be more myth than truth, but it allegedly begins during the Western Han Dynasty (202-8 BC) with its main character, Mao Yi, a stalwart official who tolerated no corruption. After a number of years, it became apparent that he was that rarity, an official with character and integrity. Frustrated with his inability to convince his fellow officials to be honorable, he left his post to return to his hometown. As he approached the countryside near his family home, he was met with the most delightful fragrance. Nearby sat an old man with hair and beard as silvery as the moon. “What is that fragrance?” Without a word the man pointed to 18 white peonies floating in a nearby lotus pond.
Viewing this as an omen for good in his future, Mao Yi built a temple with special gates around the pond for its protection. One day, Mao Yi’s beloved mother fell ill and no medicine or doctor could make her well again. Exhausted from seeking a solution, Mao Yi fell into a deep sleep in which he envisioned the 18 peonies growing into 18 tea trees full of lush buds and leaves. When he awoke he rushed to the pond where, to his astonishment, the floating peonies had indeed become tea trees. He eagerly plucked some of the leaves and brewed a tea with them for his mother. She recovered her health completely.
OTHER WHITE TEAS
Shou Mei and Gong Mei, which make up the majority of white teas grown and harvested in both Fujian and Guangxi provinces, are highly accessible but considered to be lower in quality than White Peony or Silver Needle.
Shou Mei (Longevity Eyebrow) contains one leaf bud with three or four top leaves which are curved, not unlike human eyebrows. They range widely in color from green to gold or even black or red leaves. As a result, their flavor is deeper and more pronounced and often described as similar to a lightly oxidized oolong. The flavor is stronger than Bai Mu Dan and much stronger than Bao Hao Yin Zhen.
Gong Mei (Tribute Eyebrow) is a nod to it once being a tribute tea provided to the emperor, contains one leaf bud and two or three top leaves and considered slightly higher in quality. A late harvest white, often grown from the subvarietal, da bai, its taste, color, and liquor in the cup are darker with a full-bodied taste.
White teas are also processed from teas grown in Sri Lanka, Nepal, and in both the Nilgiris and Darjeeling in India. All have the distinctive fine, white downy hair on the surface of the unopened leaf buds and young sprouts of the tea plant which give them their singular silvery color. They’re withered, slightly rolled, often by hand, and maintain their pale color and floral mellow flavor yet with the edge of flavor that is distinctive for those tea-growing regions.
For information on our Masters-level white teas, please see https://www.mastersteas.com/teas/rohini-first-white.html